Jordan Peele is a man of gratuitous talent. Best known as one half of the now legendary sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, he has now branched out into directing. With his debut film, Get Out, Peele has made a horror film that will undoubtedly be studied and talked about in classes on the genre. Peele has crafted a crackerjack paranoia thriller around the racial tensions of our time, taking aim not at the more obvious racism of the alt-right and internet trolls but that of well-meaning but ignorant liberals and moderate conservatives. Peele takes inspiration from films like The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby, slowly building tension and waiting until the last possible second to reveal what is really going on. For the most part, it works like gangbusters.
The first half of Get Out plays as a straight-faced discomfort comedy about a young black man thrust into bosom of white bourgeois society. The young man is Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a gifted photographer in the first throes a romance with the lovely Rose (Allison Williams), who has spirited him away to her family’s country estate for the weekend. Rose’s family are the Armitages, father Dean (Bradley Whitford), mother Missy (Catherine Keener), and brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry-Jones), all of whom greet Chris with varying levels of exaggerated acceptance and/or thinly-veiled distaste. Dean is, as he is a described by his daughter, a “lame dad,” trying too hard to let Chris know how “cool” he is by expressing his love of Jesse Owens and his desire to vote President Obama to a third term in office; Missy, a psychiatrist, is warmer, more successfully expressing her non-racist bona fides by not making such an effort to do so; Jeremy struggles to veil his hostility, getting drunk and offering to demonstrate a MMA move or two on Chris. For his part, Chris is eminently patient, calmly abiding questions about the black experience and what sports he plays, but he cannot help but be put on edge by the evaluation he seems to be undergoing at a party thrown by Rose’s parents, and by the unsettlingly docile nature of a pair of the Armitage’s servants, both black
To write much more about Get Out would be to give away its mysteries and spoil the fun but, suffice it to say that, up until it’s somewhat disappointingly ordinary climax, it’s fantastic. For a first-time director and second-time screenwriter (not counting his TV work) Peele proves an incredibly sophisticated craftsman; layering in clues that hint at sinister goings-on that the viewer will not realize are clues until the twists come. The cast is pretty great, most especially Kaluuya expertly brings across the feeling of a man who is both uncomfortable and entirely used to being in uncomfortable situations. Williams is a minor revelation in a role that is both in keeping with her character on Girls while also allowing her to show greater range. Whitford is the embodiment of the embarrassing dad, obnoxious but never over-the-top, while Keener, in a less flashy part, does her routinely superb work. Faring less well are Landry Jones who plays his menacing goon of a character with an accent that none of the rest of his family has and is never recognizable in the way that Whitford and Keener’s characters are, and Lil Rel Howery, who is good as the film’s comic relief character but who seems to belong in a different film.
With only a few, previously noted, missteps, Get Out proves a very promising debut film for Jordan Peele; he has vision and a remarkably developed eye. We can expect great things to come from him. The first quarter of a year has long been known as a time for studios to sluff off their least promising products but Get Out is unquestionably an exception to that rule. This is 2017’s first essential film.
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Cinematographer: Toby Oliver
Editor: Gregory Plotkin
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery, Stephen Root